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The islands were first inhabited by the Bantu tribes who settled there from the mainland. However, as exploration and trade routes were established, Zanzibar's location became a significant trading point in the Indian Ocean.

The first traders to arrive in around 700AD were the Persians and Arabs who found Zanzibar to be a useful base from which to trade with the large number of coastal towns on the mainland. Following a visit in 1498 by the famous Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama, Zanzibar became part of the Portuguese Empire. Portuguese rule lasted about 200 years until Arabs from Oman arrived and ended their domination.

The Omani Arabs, had by this time developed one of the most powerful navies in the Indian Ocean. The Sultans of Oman accrued immense wealth by mounting slave trading expeditions into the African interior, shipping their captives back to the Persian Gulf and selling them as household servants or plantation labourers. It was Zanzibar which became the hub of this commercial empire, becoming a handy storehouse for slaves fresh from the interior, who could be confined on the island until the ships, which were to transport them north were made ready.

In 1828 the flagship of Sultan Seyyid Said, one of Oman's most powerful and influential rulers landed in Zanzibar. This was his first visit to the island, and he was enchanted with what he saw. In contrast to the dry, rocky desert of Oman, Zanzibar was green, lush and filled with sources of fresh water. More importantly, it had many strategic advantages, safe, defensible and closer to the African mainland, his source of wealth. The impact of his visit was such that in 1849 Said moved his entire household to Zanzibar and declared it the new capital of his empire. The empire grew from strength to strength, albeit mostly from growing number of slaves that were sold at the great slave market in the middle of the capital Stone Town.

However, by the end of the 19th century, the British had put an end to this once great empire. By a combination of bribery, diplomacy and the odd naval bombardment, they had managed to abolish the slave trade in East Africa. The British then declared Zanzibar a protectorate.

The British remained in Zanzibar until 1963 when power was formally handed back to the Omani Sultans. However the reign of the new Sultan was short-lived and he was ousted in 1964 by violent revolution.

Following the revolution, the new Zanzibari government joined with the post-independence government of mainland Tanganyika to form a single state renamed Tanzania. Zanzibar was run along socialist, single party lines by the new revolutionary government and received political support and financial aide from countries such as Belgium, East Germany (as was) and China. The first presidential elections took place in the 1980s and with this Zanzibar's economy became less state controlled. The first half of the 1990s saw the rise of a multi-party system of government and the development of Zanzibar's new industry - tourism.
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